Designated Protagonist Syndrome

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But you didn't earn it. You didn't work for it. You've never had anybody come up to you and say you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn't make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us.
Anya accusing Buffy of falling into this, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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The downside to having a phenomenal ensemble cast. This Trope is when, compared to the many compelling supporting characters, the character whose point of view we have to look through is seen as boring, or even downright annoying. This can cause the side plots (those involving the supporting cast) to be seen as more interesting than the main storyline, and every time the main character appears on screen, the audience wants them to hurry up and leave.

This trope is when it seems like the entire cast (other than the lead) has become more popular because the audience likes them more than the supposed main character. This is the result of Fan Dumb as often as it is the fault of bad characterization or writing. Standardized Leader is a Sub-Trope, and the two often overlap. Contrast First-Person Peripheral Narrator and Focal Character.

Another cause of this can be Loads and Loads of Characters - each individual member of the ensemble may not have lots of fans, but taken together a significant part of the fanbase prefers other people to the lead, even if they can't agree on who exactly it is that should have more time in focus.

It sometimes happens as a result of making the protagonist an Audience Surrogate or Every Man. They're generic to help the audience identify with them, but this means that there isn't anything particularly special about them. A Pinball Protagonist may also result in this trope—the poor guy/gal is simply dragged around the plot by stronger characters that s/he encounters.

Note this can sometimes be the view of the Vocal Minority of viewers, and giving the character less screen time because of that is often more Pandering to the Base than actually pleasing the majority of viewers. Just a warning.

Not to be confused with Designated Hero, which is a character who the story plays up as being heroic, but comes off as distinctly... not.


Examples of Designated Protagonist Syndrome include:

Anime and Manga

  • Some fans have leveled this accusation at One Piece, complaining that Luffy is the least interesting member of the crew. While the others all have tragic pasts and complex quirks and motivations, Luffy initially comes off as more of a typical Idiot Hero whose actions are usually straightforward and whose backstory is the least interesting. While this may have been true in the early days of the series, many fans counter that in later chapters, Luffy is fleshed out much more, given more interesting interactions with other characters, and that his backstory may not be as simple as it once seemed.
    • The author is a big believer in forcing himself to improve. Oda was well aware of the complaint that Luffy wasn't as interesting without his crewmates around. Taking these critiques to heart, in 2008 he did the unthinkable and split up the crew, turning Luffy into a solo hero for the first time since chapter two, way back in 1997. While this probably wasn't the main reason he used this plot twist, it seems to have had a positive effect on Luffy as a character.
    • Being one of the most prominent main characters aside from Luffy, Zoro gets this as well. Some fans believe he has the weakest, least developed back story, and possibly having the least character development out of the entire crew despite being in the story since almost the beginning, and lacking serious personality flaws that impact the plot.
    • Averted in Japan at least, where Luffy and Zoro have always been the most and second most popular characters respectively.
  • Naruto has been accused of this as well. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura all have much larger hatedoms than the ensemble cast supporting them, especially since Sasuke is considered the Creator's Pet, Sakura has varying shades of being The Scrappy, and Naruto himself is a massive Base Breaker.
    • In recent times and thanks to the magic of Character Development, Naruto has been able to pull himself mostly out of this abyss. However, the main source of all the flak he still gets is due to his penchant for throwing reason to the wind and careening head-first into Stupid Good territory when it comes to his promise to save Sasuke. Overblown, nearly comical reactions like going into an miniature Angst Coma after he finds out the rest of the Konoha 11 plan to kill Sasuke to prevent him from dragging the country into another war and Naruto realizes the hopelessness of his attempts to redeem his friend haven't helped much either. In short, it's not necessarily Naruto's fault himself, but it's almost certainly base-breaking by association.
  • Bleach has this on both sides. The Five-Man Band are regularly overshadowed in popularity and screentime by the Gotei 13, leading to Chad and Ishida being referred to as main characters sarcastically. However, the inverse is also true; Sosuke Aizen has become the Creator's Pet for a massive portion of the fanbase, primarily due to over-reliance on Gambit Roulettes, Complexity Addiction and his descent into an insufferable Smug Snake.
    • To elaborate on the protagonists' side, Yasutora "Chad" Sado is often disliked for his ridiculous tendency to lose battles, his narmy speeches regarding The Power of Friendship, his severe case of Demoted to Extra, and his cessesion in his Character Development, to the point where it's affected and influenced almost entirely by another, more prominent character.
    • Orihime Inoue is hounded for refusing to be an Action Girl, for being a goodie-goodie even to her enemies, and for focusing almost entirely on Ichigo, enough that her Character Development suffers each time Ichigo is involved. Some fans go as low as attacking for anything related to her role in the Arrancar Arcs, but mostly getting kidnapped.[1] And, with her being an Actual Pacifist, many people hit her for not fighting.
    • Uryu Ishida is often cited as the best-liked member of the Five-Man Band on the human side, namely for lasting the longest in a fight, being thoroughly independent as a character and a fighter, regularly antagonizing Ichigo, and having a strained relationship with his father (everyone else's parents are dead, missing or goofy). The problem? He still gets mopped around the floor, he minimally contributes to the overall plot (e.g. primarily just fights, or gets handicapped for an extended time) and he often gets shafted once he finishes up his role in the arc.
    • Renji Abarai has an endearing backstory, but his Character Development was essentially resolved by the end of the Soul Society arc, so he mostly just tags along in a particular event or fight, which he usually loses in order to make the villains look Badass. In a sense, he's basically been Demoted to Extra because there really isn't much else left to tell from him, besides getting new abilities and trying to surpass his captain.
    • It's worth noting that most fans tend to view Rukia Kuchiki in a positive light (some even call her the most interesting of the main cast), but she's been Demoted to Extra ever since she regained her powers; it's an odd inverse of an Ensemble Darkhorse being a main character, when said main character hasn't done much for a long time. However, there are fans that still find her to be uninteresting (in personality and backstory) and/or condescending, but they have less of a problem with her lack of screen-time than they do with how much praise she gets from her fans.
    • Even Ichigo himself gets these accusations. His toughest criticisms include sudden and controversial power-ups, constantly fluctuating levels between badassery and wimpness, a decrease in sense, and an increase of his chronic hero syndrome, even when his friends flat-out don't want it. However, things are made in the series to make sure that the Five-Man Band Can't Catch Up as a group anymore, so his hero complex might actually be justified. This is also because his default emotion is The Everyman, Audience Surrogate and a Pinball Protagonist whose purpose in the series so far is to do battle with the Big Bad, even if he has no real reason to fight them, with the exception of Byakuya and Grand Fisher.
    • In fact, it seems that whenever Bleach is declining in popularity to the Japanese fandom (i.e. the fourth movie and the current manga arc), that's because the shinigami captains and lieutenants aren't getting as much focus.
  • A variation of this is common in shows with harems or Love Triangles. Often, the first girl or obvious winner is much more down-to-earth than the competition.
    • Any female Tsundere character who is also supposed to be the "Official Couple" with the main male lead is also often accused of this, which often leads to causing various types of Fan-Preferred Couple. It doesn't help that they're the most common harem winners.
    • Not to mention the harem leads themselves tend to be less well regarded than their female co-stars, Tenchi Muyo and its spinoffs being prime examples. Heck, look at the games that many harem series are spun off from. The Dating Sim as a genre has existed since the dawn of gaming, beginning with Porn Without Plot games; though 1992 brought the first games that really developed the haremettes, there wasn't a truly fleshed-out male lead until Yuuichi from Kanon, and that game came out in 1999.
    • It should be noted that a major aversion, the Rance series, has existed since 1989. Rance had a unique and fleshed-out personality long before 1999.
      • Tenchi Muyo lampshades this in its own title. It can be translated as "Useless Tenchi" and is officially translated as "No Need For Tenchi".
  • Many find the characters of Eureka Seven who are not named "Renton" and "Eureka" to be alot more interesting than them, and are disappointed that the show often shoves them to the side in favor of Renton and Eureka's development.
  • Ash from Pokémon is often accused of this as well, namely on how he is often deemed to be a really blatant example of The Artifact which the show would never dare to actually remove.
    • According to former head writer Takeshi Shudo, Team Rocket were deliberately created to be more interesting characters than the protagonists to encourage Multiple Demographic Appeal with the older fans, and (much to Shudo's displeasure), they were saddled with a repetitive formulaic role once he lost his position on the show. The result is that the fanbase enjoys their spotlight episodes while bemoaning their repetitiveness the rest of the time.
    • Not very hard to believe considering how many fans believe Ash is a one dimensional character who's most redeeming traits are the very generic traits of other shonen heroes.
  • Angel Sanctuary: Many readers find little to distinguish Setsuna and Sara Mudo from other Shojo manga protagonists. (Aside from...well, y'know...) By contrast, the rest of the cast comes off as by far more complex, original and likable, seeing as most of them have more pressing (not to mention sympathetic) concerns than wangsting over incestuous love. Then there's the fact that both Mudos stop the plot at various times to develop their romance when they both know the apocalypse is hanging over everyone's heads.
  • Sena from Eyeshield 21 is a pretty likable kid, but can never hope to be as popular as his anti-hero captain, Hiruma, whose placed first in nearly every character poll by a landslide.
  • The Fate Stay Night anime series presented a Scrappy Shirou to viewers unfamiliar with the visual novels. Not until halfway through the show did he become as watchable as the rest of the ensemble. 'Unlimited Blade Works' improved his standing by spreading more screen time to other characters, and giving him more crowning appearances when he did appear.
  • Pick any Yu-Gi-Oh related series, and its almost guaranteed there will be many fans who find one of the other characters more interesting, while accusing the protagonist of winning only through ass pulls. In Yugi's particular case, it appears that Yami has more fans; yes, a rare case in which a protagonist is considered less appealing than his own alter-ego.
    • This is no surprise, considering that Yami is the one who does almost all the dueling (at least in the anime), leading to many Crowning Moments, while Yugi mostly just sits around and/or runs into trouble.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion. Most fans won't admit to liking Shinji over, say, Rei, much to Anno's confusion.
  • Ikki Tousen's Sousaku Hakufu: Sure, people appreciate her Fan Service and the Spank the Cutie scenes, but otherwise she's not seen as particularly interesting or appealing compared to the more varied (and large) cast.
  • While Ryoma Echizen of The Prince of Tennis is still one of the most popular characters, he is considered by many to be the Creator's Pet. He doesn't have a great deal of character development, and suffers one significant loss in the entire series. Sanada even remarks on how he is merely a product of their generation's talent, with not much unique for himself.
  • Despite being the eponymous character, fans find Seiya from Saint Seiya either an annoying Hot-Blooded Idiot Hero or less interesting than Shiryu or the other Saints. Also overlaps with Plot Armor.
  • Touma from A Certain Magical Index is seen as this by much of the fandom. Though not an Idiot Hero, he often comes off as reckless and naive as well as quite plain and uninteresting. It's not helped by the major side stories focusing on Accelerator going on rampages to save Last Order.
    • For example. Mikoto's A Certain Scientific Railgun is much more popular than the main plot following Touma, but this is a subversion as Mikoto is a pretty run-of-the-mill Tsundere and her supporting cast isn't any better than Touma's, just more popular too. Touma could even be seen as more original, having a more passive power rather than an offensive ability, which leads to interesting battles where he must protect himself first and figure how his opponent's special power works to be able to do something, making each fight unique and interesting. Mikoto has standard electric powers and thus fights more normally, albeit she's the Lightning Can Do Anything variety at least, so she isn't terrible either.
  • Medaka Box: The eponymous character receives some flak for her God Mode Sue qualities, even though she does have flaws and is supposed to be a deconstruction. Fans seem to prefer her Arch Enemy and later, Vice-President Kumagawa. To a lesser extent, Zenkichi's everyman traits are considered boring by some of the fandom.


Comic Books

  • Wolverine ever since Marvel started hyping him up as their "Superman". He draws in the casual crowd, but more dedicated fans are sick of seeing him everywhere, especially when the books focus on him at the cost of other characters' development.
  • Duke from G.I. Joe is fairly bland and doesn't have very much characterization aside from being "the leader" and for refusing a promotion so he could stay in the field. His teammates include a silent ninja master with a wolf, a Vietnam veteran who was once a street thug, a heavy machine gunner who surfs and plays bass guitar, and a gourmet chef who wields a massive chaingun.
  • Tintin was deliberately designed so that every reader could identify with him, so he has no family, no back story, no personal connections, nothing apart from what is shown in the adventures. So it probably is no coincidence that he was not just overshadowed by the colourful Captain Haddock - who for instance has Captain Chester as a friend from the days before his first appearance as well as a famous ancestor from the days of Louis XIV - but even the Thom(p)sons, Bianca Castafiore and Jolyon Wagg seem to be more popular subjects of critical treatises.
  • Also from Franco Belgian Comics, Asterix sometimes gets eclipsed by his best friend Obelix due to having a more bland personality compared to the quirky Fat Idiot.
  • Coverstars from old DC Thomson anthology comics, such as Biffo the Bear from The Beano and Korky the Cat from The Dandy some times appear to fall victim to this.


Film

  • Brad and Janet are the main characters/heroes in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and, while they do have a pretty decent number of fans, they're nowhere near as popular as Dr. Frank N. Furter, Riff Raff, Magenta, Columbia, or Rocky Horror himself. It's pretty telling that their fan nicknames are Asshole and Slut.
  • Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan are the protagonists of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but they get overshadowed by the world's hammiest pirates. Their involvement in the two sequels only made this more apparent for some critics.
  • A common accusation leveled at pretty much any film starring Keanu Reeves. He's actually pretty good at playing Every Man-type characters, but otherwise...
  • In the original Star Wars trilogy, many fans consider Luke to be the least interesting member of the cast, thanks to him (a.) being the viewpoint character for the intended audience, (b.) starting off the series as a whiny, inexperienced teen and something of a goody-goody and (c.) being surrounded by awesomely badass archetypes that outshine him personality-wise.
  • G.I. Joe the Rise of Cobra stayed true to its comic roots. Ripcord is funny and charming, Heavy Duty is tough and awesome, Breaker is lovable and clever, Snake Eyes is a dang ninja, and Duke is... the main character.
    • Likewise with the bad guys. While Zartan, Destro, Doctor Mindbender, and the Cobra Commander all played merry hell with the Ham and Cheese and Storm Shadow was out-ninjaing Snake Eyes while being super-sexy, Baroness just sort of hung around being a plot device.
  • During the release of The Dark Knight Saga, much of the promotion concerning the film came as an indirect result of Heath Ledger's final full performance as The Joker and how startling it was, which overshadowed Christian Bale's performance as the main character. In addition, the cast included a crew of heavyweight dramatists like Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Aaron Eckhart, who was heavily lauded for his turn as Harvey Dent/Two-Face.
    • Audiences had already been wowed by the exploration of Batman as a character in Batman Begins, while this franchise's versions of Two Face and The Joker didn't appear till Dark Knight and thus got more character focus and audience attention in that movie.
  • The Lion King follows Simba, but Timon and Pumbaa were popular enough characters to get their own TV show and a POV Sequel.
  • The Princess Bride has a colourful and engaging gang of supporting characters, and a relatively forgettable hero and heroine. Inigo, Fezzik and Vizzini, the elderly couple, the Evil Albino and the six fingered count had great lines and wonderful actors. The scene where Westley defeats the prince is nowhere near as compelling to watch as when Inigo finally gets his revenge, which is not only the most quoted scene from the movie, but an excellent contender for the film's Crowning Moment of Awesome. Also, Buttercup is a bit of a Shallow Love Interest and, compared to the other characters, new skills and victory seems to come a little bit too easy to Westley.
  • In his review of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Roger Ebert invokes this trope. Mr. Ebert writes about how charismatic is the centaur Glenstorm on screen in comparison with the eponymous character, and regrets "his fate was decided a long time ago... by an Irish writer who dwelt in England's green and pleasant land".
  • Some of the viewers of Julie and Julia were far, far more interested in watching Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child, and weren't nearly as emotionally invested in the scenes depicting writer Julie Powell.
  • Michelle from the Subspecies series. She's a fairly stand horror film victim-protagonist in the original. She spends most of the three sequels crying and whining about becoming a vampire and being chased by Radu. For two sequels, Michelle's sister drives the plot far more by looking for her. Ultimately, Radu comes off as the Villain Protagonist of the series.
  • It seems that the mark of a mediocre James Bond movie is when the titular lead is not overshadowed by the Big Bad and/or the Bond Girl.


Literature

  • Frodo Baggins, from The Lord of the Rings isn't really disliked by fans, but he is noticeably less popular than any other member of the Fellowship, and plenty of the side-characters surpass him in popularity as well. Faramir, Aragorn, Arwen, Eowyn, Legolas and Gimli, and even Tom Bombadil seem to get more attention from the fans than Frodo, whose enormous burden seems to make him inaccessible.
    • Of course, Tolkien himself felt that it was more Sam who was the hero and protagonist of the story in the end. The focus also shifts considerably towards him during the latter two books.
  • K. A. Applegate once suggested this was true of Jake from Animorphs: while the other characters had clear, definable traits that made them easy to identify (Marco's ruthlessness, Rachel's bloodlust, Cassie's empathy, Ax's alienness, Tobias' conflicted nature as a hawk and a human) Jake had the dubious honor of being the "normal" one. Late into the series, it's made up for when he grows into the role of The Chessmaster.
    • He also pretty quickly develops a serious complex regarding his leadership qualities. In many ways, he's like Cyclops, only without as much fan-hate.
  • Fans and detractors of Twilight seem to mostly agree that Bella, who's specifically written so that the reader can step into her shoes, lacks a personality and is generally boring, especially when you compare her backstory (Cool Loser moves from Phoenix to a small town in Washington, becomes popular, falls in love with supernatural beings) with that of Carlisle (devout Christian vampire hunter becomes vampire, spends his life helping people even though they're his natural prey), Rosalie (girl becomes a vampire after being raped and left for dead by her fiance, kills him), Jasper (ex-Confederate soldier and some of his friends raise a vampire army), or... well, almost anyone else in the series, really.
  • Many readers of The House of Night series find the side characters more interesting than the protagonist Zoey, especially when they're shown to actually get things done and undergo significant Character Development while Zoey angsts about her Unwanted Harem and comes across as an indecisive, weak-willed character who makes poor decisions, can't control her hormones or stick to one boyfriend to save her life, and appears to have been chosen to be the next High Priestess only Because The Plot Says So.
  • Many fans of the Black Dagger Brotherhood continue reading to find out what happens to the side characters, who then become the main characters and are less interesting than the side characters in the new story, who then become... and repeat.
  • Some books in the Troubleshooter series have this issue, though fans argue about which books this applies to.
  • Terry Pratchett says that when he wrote Guards Guards, he thought Carrot was the main character. He compares it to Marx Brothers movies starring Zeppo - technically some of them do, but no one goes to see a Marx Brothers film because Zeppo's in it.
  • In any novel by Simon R. Green, there's a good chance of the hero being this. This is less a fault of the characters, as, for example, John Taylor is an interesting character in his own right, it's just that Dead Boy, Razor Eddie, Suzie Shooter, and Julian Advent are far more interesting.
  • The protagonists of Hothouse Flower and The Nine Plants of Desire are, for the most part, either static characters, jerkasses, or otherwise devoid of any sort of personality. The secondary characters (however Archetypal Character they may be) somehow manage to display more personality in they few chapters they appear in than the protagonists do in the entire book.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: It seems that as the series goes on, the characters who are not the main characters become more interesting. This could be due to the fact that the main characters remain pretty much the same as the series goes on, while everyone else gets affected by their actions and react to them in different ways.
  • September, the protagonist of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, is a clear Audience Surrogate, to the point where she's outshone by every single other character in the book.


Live-Action TV

  • Many fans of Lost have an intense dislike for Jack, the presumed "hero" of the show. This is related, at least in part, to his being a much less interesting character than other characters like Locke, Sayid, or Ben. Then again, he was supposed to die in the first episode, and the general consensus is that Jack got a lot better toward the end.
    • Kate gets it pretty bad too. She's the main female character, but unfortunately the majority of the cast - female and male - is seen as more compelling, sympathetic and likable. Unlike Jack, she doesn't become that interesting later on.
  • The eponymous character of Doogie Howser, M.D. was the clear main character for the entire course of the show, but he became less and less prominent as time went on. As he matured, he was able to sidestep most problems; the writers realized that sitcoms were reliant on crazy situations, but Doogie was too smart to ever get stuck in them in the first place. By the fourth season, he was still the title character, but none of the plots were about him anymore—they were about the troubles of people around him, particularly his best friend Vinnie.
  • Oz avoids this trope by making the narrator, Augustus Hill, a minor character and perhaps the most sympathetic in the series, and by otherwise having Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • A noticeable problem in Dollhouse, where a major point of the series (season one especially) is that Echo slowly develops a personality after having been repeatedly mind-wiped. This makes it hard for her to compete with the side characters who already had fascinating personalities, or even her fellow Dolls Sierra and Victor, who managed to have character development early on via their romance. By the end of season one she became more interesting, especially since Victor and Sierra repeatedly had the same character development while she moved on, but season two managed to go in the precise opposite direction by making her so super-special-awesome (while constantly waxing lyrical about her) that it bordered on Canon Sue.
    • Her original personality, Granola Girl Caroline, didn't help a bit.
  • In another Whedon project, some Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans find the eponymous character boring or annoying. Meanwhile, Willow and Xander were more popular, Spike had the funniest lines (and both he and Angel ended up with a large female fanbase for some reason or another), and a lot of the recurring villains (for example, Dru) and monsters of the week were pretty enjoyable.
  • In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the eponymous character turned out to be the least interesting of the bunch. It doesn't help that she was sharing screentime with Robot Girl Cameron and Time Traveling Terrorist Vigilante Derek. Mostly, Sarah was important because John would be important, but that meant that both of them couldn't be important at once. The more John becomes The Chosen One, the more Sarah becomes just another sidekick... and in this case, in the face of all the tremendous BadAssery all around her, that means becoming The Chick again. Despite the precedents from the first film, the writers never figured out how to let Sarah Connor turn back into The Chick and make it work.
  • This was a serious problem for Star Trek: The Original Series. While all of the seven-plus main characters could support a story, Kirk was conceived as the star, and Shatner aggressively campaigned for more screen time. Attempts to rotate the secondary characters into the spotlight (e.g., doing Kirk-and-Spock episodes, Kirk-and-Scotty episodes, Kirk-and-Sulu episodes, etc.) failed because Spock was so darn popular, and the Kirk-Spock-McCoy Power Trio dynamic worked so well.
  • Many fans of How I Met Your Mother find Ted to be the most boring out of the five main characters.
  • Serena is generally treated as the main character on Gossip Girl while the fans complain that they want to see more of Blair and Chuck... even though they do.
  • Finn and Rachel from Glee. For starters, many fans were unimpressed that a show that values racial and sexual diversity has a straight white couple as its teen leads. It doesn't help that Will blatantly plays favorites with the two of them when the other kids are just as talented or more (not hard to do in Finn's case). Granted, Rachel's spotlight-hogging and Finn's weak vocals have become significant plot points within the show, but many fans feel their relationship has become a Romantic Plot Tumor.
    • Will and Kurt to a lesser extent. Will has a tendency of becoming a colossal moron whenever the episode focuses on him, while Kurt has the power of never being wrong. Even his dad and stepmom's wedding had more to do with singing his praises than Burt and Carole's nuptials.
  • It's rather sad that Lea Thompson became the least interesting character in her own vehicle, Caroline in The City.
  • iCarly: Carly and Miranda Cosgrove suffer from this, mostly by virtue of Carly usually playing the straight woman to Sam and Spencer; with Sam and Freddie being part of the Seddie ship, and Gibby the current Ensemble Darkhorse, it appears in some fan forums that she is the least popular character. Carly gets accused by fan haters of being boring, a 'waste of space', and 'the worst thing about the show'.
    • Tori, from sister show Victorious, suffers this but in the opposite way. Instead of being boring, she's done things like kiss the two other main female characters' boyfriends, one of which caused them to break up, and caused Tori to Never Live It Down for the other. She also got stick for being the only person to get to sing on the show for quite a long time.
      • On the subject of Victorious, go to pretty much any YouTube video with Ariana Grande, the actress who plays Cat, and half the comments are about how she's infinitely better than Tori.
  • Meredith Grey from Greys Anatomy is seen as a whiny and self-obsessed load whose only redeeming factor is that she's not Izzie Stevens. Now that karma has finally caught up to Izzie, resulting in her being fired, expect this to hit a lot worse.
  • An example involving real people shows up in Wheel of Fortune. Pat Sajak may be the host, but it's Vanna White that often shows up in all the board and video games based on it.
  • Another occurs in American Idol, with judge Simon Cowell being more associated with the show than host Ryan Seacrest.
    • That might have something to do with the fact that he was the common element between the UK's Pop Idol and the Americanized version, American Idol. Also, the judges generally get more attention than Seacrest, particularly during the first half of the season when he's relegated to hallway interviews.
  • How many people remember that Richie Cunningham, and not the Fonz, was the main character of Happy Days?
    • This fact deeply bothered Henry Winkler, who disliked how the executives wanted to push Ron Howard out of the spotlight. He refused to do a Fonz-centric spinoff, and insisted on the rest of the cast getting as much or more screentime.
  • Outsourced (TV series) received criticism because the main character was considered boring compared to the rest of the cast.
  • Arguably Sam Winchester from Supernatural.
    • The same could be said about Dean too. For years now, the fanbase has divided itself into a never-ending civil war of Sam Girls and Dean Girls. The addition of Cas only added a new angle of Dean/Cas shippers versus Wincest shippers. At least Bobby might be a universally loved character... or at least probably.
  • Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood. Bill also gets this treatment a lot, even though his character's less in focus than he used to be.
  • On Heroes, Sylar is not only more powerful than the show's heroes and cooler than the show's heroes, he's also a lot dumber than the vast majority of them, too.
    • And on the hero side alone, Peter is considered the dullest between having an absolutely broken power and just being dumb as a sack of hammers.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: While it certainly isn't a universal opinion, a lot of people find protagonist Will to be the least interesting character on Fresh Prince. Many find Will to be an annoying and over-the-top Jerk Sue. In addition, many simply find Hilary to be a funnier character, or find Uncle Phil more admirable, or root for Carlton because his status as the Straw Loser makes him more sympathetic to a lot of people, etc.
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You say you want things, but you're never willing to work for them. You're never willing to make the sacrifice. You keep expecting to just charm your way through life.

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  • Entourage's Vincent Chase as played by Adrien Grenier is easily the weakest link in the cast (possibly because of how hard it is to be convinced by an unknown tv star playing a movie star) with most of the supporting characters having pretty big fanbases but Vince being generally unliked.
  • Stefan in The Vampire Diaries. He's supposed to be the hero, but the majority of viewers call him boring and prefer Damon, his more interesting and complicated older brother. It's not really getting better as the series progresses since side characters like Caroline, Tyler, Klaus, Rebekah, and Jeremy are all becoming more interesting than Stefan too.
    • Elena also falls into this. Occasionally there's a tentative foray into giving her characteristics, but mostly she's the Good Girl who everyone obsesses over for some reason. Her self-described flaw is that she's "too good".
  • WKRP in Cincinnati had this problem with Andy Travis, who was written to be the Only Sane Man protagonist a la Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler Moore, but was cast with an unknown young actor, Gary Sandy, who was overshadowed by the rest of the ensemble cast. The writers recognized the problem and reconfigured the show so all the characters were roughly equal in importance.


Newspaper Comics

  • Shermy and Patty (not Peppermint Patty, she came later) of Peanuts. The original cast, which also consisted of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and later Violet, had next to no personality, besides Charlie Brown being an occasional nuisance to the girls and Violet being an aspiring homemaker. Once Schroeder, Lucy, and Linus showed up, Charlie Brown grew into the sad-sack we all know and love, and Snoopy began thinking, Shermy was left with little to do and by the mid-sixties had all but vanished. Patty and Violet then took up mocking Charlie Brown, but this eventually became Lucy's role once she got her Plot-Relevant Age-Up, and Patty faded away while Violet briefly became a Rich Bitch before disappearing as well. In short, many of the original protagonists were so bland they barely made it a fifth of the way into the strip's run.
  • To a considerable portion of the reader base, the Patterson family of For Better or For Worse evolved into this during the last few years of the strip's original run. Except for youngest daughter April, who is usually seen as the Only Sane Man by these readers, the whole Patterson clan turned into unlikable characters with unrealistic successes and varying attitude problems the size of Ontario.
    • It doesn't help that April seemed to be The Unfavourite, and that anything she did or liked was automatically bad or lame for no apparent reason.
  • On the Fastrack creator Bill Holbrook admitted that original protagonist Bob Shirt was this, and that he had to switch focus to save the strip.
  • Les Moore has arguably replaced the title character of Funky Winkerbean as the protagonist. The whole strip changed from a light hearted high school story to a soap opera of almost nonstop misery.


Video Games

  • This trope is VERY common in video games, often intentionally. Since the hero is often meant to represent the player, many games will give them a minimal personality (or none whatsoever) so the player can project themselves in their place, thus the supporting cast gets all the personality and most of the drama to themselves. Especially prevalent in the case of a Heroic Mime. Unlike examples of this trope in other media, many fans love having this trope in their games and will sometimes complain if the hero has a strong personality, though the reasons can vary from not being able to insert themselves into the role to the strong personality being one they find utterly abhorrent.
  • Far Cry 2 is quite a notable example of this as the player chooses from one of 12 characters to play as at the beginning. The remaining 11 are found throughout the game, and interact with the player, usually are quite interesting and have distinctive personalities. Then player's character on the other hand becomes a personality-less Heroic Mime. Players probably would find it most enjoyable therefore to play as their LEAST favorite character.
  • One very common complaint about Final Fantasy XII is how boring and/or unimportant Vaan and Penelo are compared to the other characters.
    • This probably has a lot to do with the fact that the original script called for Balthier to be the main character, then the script was changed so that Basch was the main character, then it got changed to Vaan, but Basch and especially Balthier ended up being more popular.
  • Sora of Kingdom Hearts tends to get a lot of flak for this, being claimed to be a Static Character at best and a Canon Sue at worst. Though, of course, part of the reason is a good number of his detractors happen to be fans of Organization XIII.
  • Players tend to favor the supporting cast over the title character in games like Mario Kart or Mario Party, because specialised characters are often better in competitive games than Mario.
    • While this usually isn't prevalent in the main platformers, largely because there is little supporting cast (or plot) to draw attention away from Mario, it is prevalent in the more plot-based RPG games, particularly the Paper Mario games. Of particular note is Super Paper Mario, where Tippi ends up being the one that gets the most attention.
  • Street Fighter III's main character is supposed to be Alex, but you'd have no way of knowing that without official statements from Capcom. Popularity-wise, Alex wound up being overshadowed not only by the returning cast members from earlier Street Fighter games, but by many of the newly-introduced characters like Dudley, Yun, Yang, Ibuki, Elena, and Makoto as well.
    • Alex is a peculiar case in that his stint as the protagonist is widely overlooked despite him having ties to the Big Bad (most would probably tell you that Ryu is still The Hero, which isn't too farfetched considering that Ryu's been integral to the plots of the first game, Alpha, and IV), but he's still widely regarded to be a popular character in the grand scheme of the series. For example, his surprise appearance on the roster of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom was warmly received.
    • Subverted with Abel. While more or less touted as the face of IV (like Alex, he also possessed a link to the main villain of the subseries), he was overshadowed by Crimson Viper and (come Super) Juri. However, he still has a fairly sizable fanbase and is regarded more favorably than the remainder of the newcomers, who have either received mixed reactions or are outright detested.
  • You can't have this trope without mentioning Mortal Kombat; In a World with energy-wielding ninjas, Physical Gods, fantastic creatures, Hollywood Cyborgs, et all, the most anyone seems to remember about Liu Kang, the actual protagonist of the series, is that he's the Turkey Boy. Shuujinko is also an example.
  • Mega Man X himself. This is partially justified, since Zero's design was orignally meant for the new Mega Man, but Executive Meddling forced Inafune to create a more familiar protagonist. Nevertheless, Zero became an Ensemble Darkhorse and the one with the more important storylines.
  • Welkin of Valkyria Chronicles sometimes falls into this. He's the main character and instantly becomes the leader of Squad 7 despite all of his major subordinates being veterans, while this is his first tour in real combat. He's had officer training, but he's mostly in charge because he's the guy who owns the tank. The rest of Squad 7 is notoriously colourful, with three DLC stories centering around secondary characters and one centering on Selvaria. Unlike many video game heroes, Welkin does have a personality of his own, but it makes him less a generic game hero and more a generic romance-story hero, and he pales in comparison to the more interesting, quirky Squad 7 soldiers.
  • Reimu from Touhou has been known to get accused of this in recent times as her popularity has started to decline amongst fans who feel that more attention should be spent on other characters after having been the lead for so long. She remains however at least the 2nd most popular character in the series out-shined only by Marisa, the deuteragonist. It's actually become a running joke for her to sarcastically note that she will always remain a playable character in spite of her declining popularity. Having an optional player character helps.
  • While Chris Redfield of Resident Evil is considered to be the main protagonist of the series, you'll never know it from the fans who consider Jill, Leon, Claire, and Wesker more likable and interesting than him.
  • Interestingly inverted with Sonic the Hedgehog; one of the biggest complaints against the series has been that all of the Loads and Loads of Characters introduced over the years have been gradually stealing the spotlight away from the eponymous blue hedgehog. SEGA has even noted their attempts to maintain spotlight on Sonic, with the most recent titles having him as the sole playable character and with a minimal supporting cast.
    • Of course, this trope can also be played straight. Some complain that, compared to every other character in the franchise, Sonic has no real personality or backstory.
    • Alternate media enterpretations of Sonic drift in and out with this, especially since a lot of them have similarly large cast ensembles that the story struggles to balance. In the Sonic X anime in particular, Sonic is fazed into the background as the role of The Ace, with Audience Surrogate Chris Thorndyke played more as the show's lead. Neither garnered well with fans over other supporting characters who had more colorful personalities and Character Development. The Archie comics have similar problems due to having spotlight stealers from nearly every take of the franchise.


Web Comics

  • Antimony of Gunnerkrigg Court, whose general calm and open-minded approach to everything, combined with her ability to be near-central to every subplot she comes across just by existing and the enticingly vague development of the other students, tends to make her the least interesting of the Court's residents. Less so later on after it's revealed that she's part fire elemental and unknowingly responsible for her mother's death, both of which give her emotional depth.
  • John Egbert in Homestuck was the first character introduced out of the stupendously large cast and acts as the Audience Surrogate through much of the series, being the kid to whom all the bizarre and improbable game mechanics have to be explained, so he wasn't nearly as well-developed as some of the other characters at first. He's gotten a bit more Character Development now that we can see his actions through other points of view.
    • Karkat on the Alternia side is the first troll introduced and becomes team leader, which in the end is responsible for their victory. But from introduction onward, most other trolls are more interesting to watch than him, though he does get his moments of awesome later by calming down his homicidally insane friend by shoosh-papping him into submission.
    • Saying this, the greatest strength of both John and Karkat as characters is how well they play off everyone else in pesterlogs. They're both natural diplomats, underneath their respective derpy/jerkass exteriors.
      • Defied later too. John starts to express his own personality traits once the "main" protagonist role is fractured between himself, Karkat, and Jane, while Karkat actually becomes the more unique troll left alive. Kanaya and Terezi are relatively laid back and Gamzee is implied to be as well.
    • Averted with Jane, a kind-hearted but coddled heiress, who readers suspected would end up being the most focused upon character of her arc. In reality, the focus ended up mostly on Dirk's Auto-Responder, an AI, and Roxy, a drunk with access to portal technology, who are more immediately fun to watch.
  • The smart and refined title character of Keiki fell into the sidelines as the comic progressed, with her mischevious and Book Dumb classmate Beefer becoming the likeliest candidate for the new main character. The year the comic turned nine, Keiki didn't make any appearances at all. The cartoonist has even gone so far as to lampshade her Mary Sue-ness at least twice, and admit in her character bio that her status as the main character is "debatable."


Web Original

  • The title character of Homestar Runner gets overshadowed by Strong Bad quite a bit. The creators acknowledge it; even in the intro video, Strong Bad notes that "Basically, I'm the reason you're here."


Western Animation

  1. (Then again, her guard/jailer was the fourth strongest soul-eating monster. What could you do?)